If you only look at the fall shows, Kokandy Productions seems to have a tendency towards serial killers lately. Last year’s portrayal of “Sweeney Todd” won six Out of Stock Jeff Awardsand in September, Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho” will follow his victims in the basement of the Chopin Theatre.
Between this musical murder spree comes a summer project at the other end of the spectrum: a goofy, family-friendly adventure under the sea where the future villain is a camper crustacean with an inferiority complex. JD Caudill is directing Nickelodeon’s new live production of “The SpongeBob Musical”. show premiere At the Nederlander Theater in Chicago (later the Oriental) in 2016 before opening on Broadway in 2017.
Based on Stephen Hillenburg’s long-running animated series, the musical features original songs from a dazzling roster of artists including Aerosmith’s Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Lady A, Plain White T’s and more. . . The music also includes songs by David Bowie and Tom Kenny, who voice SpongeBob onscreen. This Frankenstein-like musical approach works surprisingly well, though uptime would benefit from a few cuts. The different genres of composers are often distinct, but together they achieve a cohesive sound that reflects the optimistic optimism of the source material.
Frankie Leo Bennett mesmerizes in the lead role in Kokandy with his megawatt smile and youthful energy that never subsides throughout the 2.5-hour show. When a volcano threatens to destroy their hometown, SpongeBob and his friends, the lovable, clueless Patrick Star (Isabel Cecilia García) and the scientific genius squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Sarah Patin), team up to save Bikini Bottom. As the doomsday clock ticks away, some sea creatures attempt to exploit the situation and others target vulnerable scapegoats, while the rest of the town tear itself apart. It’s a classic disaster response scenario for post-2020 that seems real—there’s even a brief quarantine sub-draft—but the comment is articulated in a show that never takes itself too seriously.
Comic supporting roles include foe Sheldon J. Plankton (Parker Guidry), who is consumed by the jealousy of his more successful fast-food rival Eugene H. Krabs (Tommy Bullington). One of the tallest actors in the community plays this little plotter, a cast that makes jokes about the character’s size even funnier. Guidry walks around in knee-high boots and a matching green trench coat (designed by Jakob Abderhalden), while Plankton makes bad plans with his wife, a computer named Karen (Amy Yesom Kim).
Quinn Rigg, who plays Squidward Q. Tentacles, manages the skinny gait and exaggerated frown of SpongeBob’s grumpy neighbor. In one of the funnier spin-offs, the lone clarinetist misses fulfilling his dreams of a life on stage. Meanwhile, Patrick accidentally becomes the cult-like leader of a salmon school and climaxes with his apotheosis during the gospel anthem of “Super Starfish Savior” Yolanda Adams, which blends Yolanda Adams’ “Jesus Christ Superstar” vibes with puns about Patrick’s genre and surname. reaches. Throughout the show, Foley performer and green-wig fish Ele Matelan amps up comedic antics with live sound effects like Squidward’s squishy gait.
The production team captures the lively aesthetic of the series with a palette of neon colours, pastels and metallics. Instead of literally imitating the cartoons, Abderhalden evokes the look of each character, with quirky clothing options such as a pink jumpsuit for Patrick and steel blue pants and a mustard-colored blouse for Squidward. Keith Ryan’s wigs, which come in pink, blue, green and rainbow colors, are complemented by Sydney Genco’s whimsical makeup designs that include glow-in-the-dark green eyeshadow for Plankton and Karen, and blue lipstick for Squidward. Many characters, including newscaster Perch Perkins (Genco), seem like country cousins to the residents of the decadent Capitol from the “Hunger Games” movies.
Jenna Schoppe’s fun, versatile choreography keeps Patrick’s school of salmon assistants moving like synchronized swimmers, while backup dancers in Squidward’s showbiz dream sequence engage in a tap routine. There’s even an interpretive dance featuring dozens of fluorescent yellow sponges. Under the musical direction of Bryan McCaffrey, this powerful cast of singers can fill the intimate space with a wall of sound. I was particularly impressed by the rich harmonies of The Flaming Lips’ first-act finale, “Tomorrow Is,” with echoes of “One Day More” from “Les Misérables.”
It’s a wild ride, but “The SpongeBob Musical” is an uplifting show about never giving up, finding your inner strength, and working together as a community for the greater good. Sure, it’s aimed at kids, but not just that. Given the Barbie craze that’s ravaging movie theaters right now, the adults are ready for a light summer meal—so if your Barbenheimer double bill ends with existential dread, why not grab a pick-me-up from this talented young cast?
Review: Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob Musical” (3 stars)
When: Until September 3
Where: Kokandy Productions at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.
Duration: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Tickets: $40 kokandyproductions.com
Emily McClanathan is an independent critic.